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Viewer's Guide to The Christian Zionist's Bible: a Jewish Perspective

New JewsOnFirst video conversations with Hebrew Union College professor Rabbi Michael J. Cook for study groups and individuals

By Robin Podolsky

Image loading is proud to announce The Christian Zionist's Bible, a three-part video conversation with Rabbi Michael J. Cook, PhD., author of Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment (Jewish Lights Publishing). Dr. Cook, Professor of Intertestamental and Early Christian Literatures at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion, is interviewed by Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of

Their discussion will be useful for any Jewish person who wants to understand what the New Testament says about Jews and Judaism or who has been interested to learn more about the Bible of their Christian neighbors but is unsure of how to begin; for any Christian person who wants to understand the New Testament from a Jewish perspective; for clergypersons, teachers and individuals.

The Christian Zionist's Bible can be ordered on DVD from JewsOnFirst. Click here to order.

Rapture, dispensation explained respectfully by a modern rabbi
Have you ever wondered if the New Testament really is anti-Jewish? Have you wanted to understand the theology of Christians who believe that it is their religious duty to be active Zionists and what that has to do with the belief in the Millennium? Do all such people believe the same things? (Of course, the answer is 'no,' and the conversation with Dr. Cook makes clear why.) As the conversations progress, terms as "rapture," "tribulation," "dispensation," and "Armageddon war" are defined systematically and respectfully by a modern rabbi who wishes to engage his Christian neighbors in honest and caring dialogue.

Part I of the video introduces the viewer to Dr. Cook’s methods for understanding what he calls the New Testament's Gospel Dynamics. Cook explains why he believes that it is neither constructive for Jews to ignore the New Testament nor necessary for Jews to study the entire book in depth. Cook believes that, for modern Jews, the key word, with regard to the New Testament is engagement.

As a Reform rabbi, Dr. Cook has learned to study holy texts, not only in the form in which they have been finalized, but also in their historical context. Dr. Cook applies this method to the New Testament in order to help the viewer understand how it reflects the context of the times in which it was written. Cook explains the following Gospel Dynamics in order to help the viewer understand the attitudes toward Jews expressed in the New Testament:

  • The shadow of Roman rule and persecution under which the New Testament was written and the need for the authors to disassociate themselves from the Jewish rebellion against the Roman state;
  • The need to account for the continued existence of the world and the delay of a second coming of the Christian Messiah;
  • The need for a framework of understanding in which the crucifixion of Jesus is a seen as a triumph and not as a defeat.

The basic beliefs of Christian Zionists
In Parts 2 and 3 of the The Christian Zionist's Bible, Dr. Cook explains for a wide audience the basic beliefs of most Christian Zionists and the differences of perspective among them. He also makes suggestions for how modern Jews can best begin to engage constructively with their Christian neighbors, especially those who are eager to share their religious beliefs.

Additional Resources to Enhance Your Viewing Experience

Study Guide for The Christian Zionist's Bible. The study guide's key questions for each part of the conversations with Dr. Cook will spark productive discussion. The guide also contains definitions of terms used by Dr. Cook. Click here.

Teaching Notes by Rabbi Don Weber of Temple Rodeph Torah in Marlboro, New Jersey, for an adult education course on Dr. Cook's book, Modern Jews Engage the New Testament. Click here.

In movies and in casual conversation, we often hear words like "Armageddon" and "rapture," but don’t always know what those words mean to people who believe wholeheartedly in what they stand for. Dr. Cook teaches us that the interpretation of the New Testament's Book of Revelation called Dispensationalism, on which many Protestant Christians now rely, is of relatively recent origin, having been developed by a Scottish theologian named John Darby and brought to the United States in the 19th Century.

Dispensationalists believe in a very specific scenario for the end of the world: the second coming of Jesus and the Armageddon war.

In The Christian Zionist's Bible, Dr. Cook lays out the timeline envisioned by Christians who expect the second coming of Jesus to happen soon--and who also believe that Jews have a key role to play in that process. Dr. Cook explains "Millennialism," "Dispensationalism" and other key ideas that motivate many Christian Zionists. He also explains why all Christian "Millenialists" are not Zionists and not all Christian Zionists are "Millenialists" and he points out the disagreements within each group.

Some Christian Zionists believe Judaism must be eliminated before the "Final Judgment"
Dr. Cook and Rabbi Beliak discuss one of the most difficult issues affecting the relationship between Jews and those Christian Zionists who have a Millenialist perspective: such Christians believe that, in order for the "Final Judgment," which will complete the redemption of the word, to take place, Judaism must be eliminated from the earth. Millenialists believe that all Jews must be persuaded or made to live in the State of Israel, that the State of Israel must be engulfed in a horrible war with its neighbors in which two-thirds of all Jews are killed, and that the remaining third must convert to Christianity.

This is the issue that must be understood by Jews who seek to evaluate the nature of Christian Zionist support for Israel. Christian Zionists have become a powerful political force in the USA and in Israel itself. Many Jews are heartened by the possibility of a tactical alliance in support of Israel with such a potent group. Other Jews are troubled -- and not only because American Jews and Evangelical Christians tend to disagree about many domestic political issues, including self-determination for women, lesbian and gay rights and the separation of church and state.

The key issue here is not a disagreement about whether or not Jesus really is the Messiah. For Jews the answer is that Jesus is not the Messiah, but for Christians the answer is quite different. Everyone agrees that, if there is an afterlife at all, we will each, eventually, discover the truth about that for ourselves. The real (and manifestly contradictory) challenge: How can people who believe in the absolute necessity of the Armageddon war support policies which might result in a State of Israel that lives with its neighbors in security and peace?

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In particular, many Jews have become increasingly concerned about the extent to which leading Christian Zionist organizations, such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI), have allied themselves with the settler movement in Israel in resisting any peace agreement that involves the return of Palestinian lands seized in the 1967 war. Dr. Cook explains the theological imperatives that drive this political position, which differs from that held by the majorities of Israelis and American Jews.

Rules for engagement with missionaries
Dr. Cook also takes on a subject that has been difficult for Jews and Christians: proselytizing. He explains why Evangelical Christians believe that they are obliged to share their religious views with others and lays out suggested 'ground rules' for how Jews and Evangelical Christians might interact in ways that foster mutual respect. He also suggests ways in which Jewish educators might prepare Jewish students and community members to engage with missionaries, based on an understanding of Gospel Dynamics that does not need an encyclopedic knowledge of chapter and verse, but, rather, is based in an understanding of the context in which the Gospels emerged. In particular, this understanding will enhance the Jewish reader's understanding of those Prophetic texts in the Hebrew Bible, which are, according to Dr. Cook's analysis, key to the way in which the story of Jesus has been shaped.

Dr. Cook believes that the key to Jewish well-being in a society in which the majority of religious believers are Christians is informed engagement. He is convinced that increased knowledge about the beliefs of others could only strengthen the faith of those religious people who wish to be a full part of modern society.

Evangelical Christians are often socially and politically active Americans who play a crucial role in our modern world. Christian Zionists, in particular, have emerged as a potent force in international and domestic politics. JewsOnFirst offers this new video, The Christian Zionist's Bible, as a tool for understanding the basic beliefs of these important groups.

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Buy Rabbi Michael Cook's book, featured in our video The Christian Zionist's Bible, from Jewish Lights Publishing. Click here.